The damn-the-data attitude of anti-meat groups has permeated the attitudes of the general public and too many members of Congress. The lackadaisical attitude about the science of food production is setting dangerous precedents that will haunt livestock producers for generations to come.

More specifically, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), among others, is continuing to define the standards under which meat and poultry can be produced while skewing consumers’ acceptance of a food supply that is second to none in the world.

Our European cohorts learned this bitter lesson years ago. “If you don’t proactively set the agenda on (animal) welfare, help the consumer think about it, challenge them, then the consumer will set that agenda for you,” explained straight-talking, Danish-born veterinarian Peter Kristensen in an address to a global audience attending the PIC symposium in Nashville this spring.

“At this stage, the consumer is convinced that loose-housed sows equal welfare. They don’t care about the problems or the integration or the growing pains or the cost of production,” he stressed.

Kristensen describes the pork industry’s adversaries as “highly versatile cyber warriors” who perpetuate their version of animal welfare around the world via the Internet. “This is the new battlefield that the livestock and poultry industries will face the next 50 years,” he professed.

 

The UK Experience

Kristensen has had a ringside seat as loose sow housing was established as the welfare standard in 27 European Union (EU) countries.

Recounting some of the history that led to the ban on gestation stalls, he explained that in 1999, Tesco, a powerful retailer in the UK, figured out that consumers perceive loose housing as “animal welfare” and its adoption could help sell more pork. They imposed their anti-stall regulation on their suppliers, which transpired into EU legislation that led to a partial ban on sow stalls effective Jan. 1, 2013. Note the term “partial ban.” There currently is a memorandum in Brussels calling for a total ban on sow stalls — including farrowing crates — by 2021.

In the UK, sows must be placed in loose housing immediately after weaning/insemination. “I am here to tell you, that agenda tends to be very, very expensive. With 10-12 years of experience with UK compliance, we know that this will cost you, in round numbers, about 1 pig/sow/year. It makes zero sense financially and it makes zero sense welfare-wise. Do not give up on 30-day gestation in stalls (post-weaning),” he urged.

Furthermore, don’t expect to get paid more for pigs from loose-housed sows. “As a general rule of life, retailers will not pay more for anything! They will ask for many things when it comes to welfare, but pay for nothing. We’ve learned that the hard way. We’ve adopted loose-sow housing and slowly, cent by cent, increased the cost of production,” he said.

 

Dancing with the Devil

The back-pedaling by HSUS on their agreement with United Egg Producers (UEP) to support federal legislation that prescribes specific welfare-friendly parameters for laying hens has already begun. According to a report posted on www.humanewatch.org, a tiff between these strange bedfellows arose when HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle apparently sent kudos to Burger King for continuing to “set the standard” for animal welfare when they declared they would phase out the use of eggs from hens housed in cages — large and enriched or small.

Clearly, HSUS has no intention of supporting cages of any sort in the long term. Their end game is to support cage-free housing and, ultimately, create an economically unsustainable situation that will eliminate chickens and eggs as a food source.

Now, instead of egg producers setting the standards for managing their birds, HSUS is attempting to do so by convincing retailers and restaurateurs to dictate production standards that they are ill-equipped to do.

While the amendment calling for HSUS-preferred layer housing has been dropped, along with a couple of hundred other misplaced amendments in the Senate version of the farm bill, it’s mind-boggling to me that our elected officials and/or a handful of fast food and retail chain moguls think they and HSUS know more about the care, housing and welfare of chickens (or pigs) than the nation’s egg (or pork) producers do.

I like Humane Watch’s suggestion to test HSUS’s mettle on the layer housing issue — ask them to “publicly disavow ‘cage-free’ as a goal. If HSUS won’t do that, then it’s obvious that they are playing a two-faced game.”

I’m taking all bets on how that will play out. I’ll hold the money!